Paul Holmes 27 Sep 2010 // 2:13PM GMT
The decision by Renault-Nissan to combine its marketing and communications departments into a single function—coming just a week after new research suggesting that CMOs are taking responsibility for traditional public relations functions (see the post below)—has raised concerns among some public relations professionals. In this PR Week article, for example, several leading corporate communicators express several doubts about the new structure, arguing that the corporate press office should be independent of the marketing function; that PR is in danger of being subsumed by marketing because of the latter’s larger budget; and that some functions, such as investor relations, do not co-exist comfortably alongside marketing. Given the concerns I expressed in reaction to the H&K/CMO Club survey, you might expect me to share these concerns, and to a certain extent I do. There are certainly risks in merging marketing and what Renault-Nissan calls communications but I would (see the post immediately below this one for an explanation) prefer to refer to as public relations. But I believe the opportunity presented by this sort of restructuring is too important to be dismissed out of hand. Broadly speaking, the risk is that what I would call traditional marketing thinking will overwhelm what I would call traditional public relations thinking, and I believe this is more likely to happen—though not inevitable—if the merged function is led by someone who comes from a traditional marketing background. Unfortunately, this happens far too often, typically because the head of PR or corporate communications does not have the authority or respect within the organization to take the helm of the merger operation. But when the merged corporate communications/marketing function is led by someone with a PR background (like Simon Sproule in the case of Nissan, or Jon Iwata at IBM) then I believe the merged function comes pretty close to the ideal I have long argued for. I have always believed that marketing (as traditionally defined) is merely a subset of public relations (as classically defined). Which is to say, public relations is about managing the relationship between an organization and all of its publics; marketing is about managing the relationship between an organization and one of its publics. The ideal structure, it seems to me, would see a single individual responsible for all of an organization’s key relationships. I would call that individual the head of public relations, or the chief relationship officer, or the chief reputation officer, but if a company wants to call him or her the head of marketing and communications, that’s not a major concern for me right now. The most important thing is that he or she should learn to think like a PR person, which to me means ensuring that transparency, authenticity, dialogue and engagement become central to all of a company’s communications, including its marketing. Reporting to that individual, there should be people responsible for various publics—shareholders (the head of investor relations), employees (the head of internal communications), customers (marketing), government (head of public affairs) and perhaps communities and media. Elsewhere in PR or marketing and communications organization there should be people responsible for various channels of communication: advertising, promotions, direct marketing, events and sponsorships, media relations, digital and social media. I’m not suggesting that such an ideal structure will inevitably result from the merger of marketing and communications. But I would argue that this structure will never emerge if the two functions are kept separate.